Mike Stevenson, Senior Manager Strategic Markets at NorDan UK, discusses how low embodied carbon can be designed into new-build and retrofit projects, as well as the company’s involvement with the COP26 House.
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Most of us are aware that buildings are responsible for nearly 40 per cent of global energy related carbon emissions. However, what is less well known is that a significant proportion of that figure comes from embodied carbon; the total greenhouse gas emissions that are caused by the manufacture and supply of construction products and materials, as well as the construction process itself.
For building materials, this includes emissions that arise from extracting, transporting, manufacturing, and activity on site, as well as the operational performance and end-of-life emissions associated with those materials. It is now recognised that these emissions can make up between 20 to 50 per cent of the whole life carbon footprint of a new building, a figure that will only increase with ever improving thermal standards.
Carbon reduction targets
With increased awareness has come bold targets to reduce embodied carbon. The Government’s Future Homes Standard aims to ensure that all new homes built from 2025 will produce 75-80 per cent less carbon emissions than those built under current regulations, and has committed to reducing net carbon emissions to zero by 2050.
Looking beyond the UK, The World Green Building Council proposes that by 2030 all new buildings, infrastructure and renovations should have at least 40 per cent less embodied carbon with significant upfront carbon reduction, and by 2050, all new buildings, infrastructure and renovations will have net-zero embodied carbon.
So, what do we do?
NorDan windows and doors were specified for Beyond Zero Homes’ COP26 House in Glasgow
Refurb over rebuild
First, we need to make sure we revisit and assess the refurbished value of our existing buildings. The perception is that building new will reduce carbon emissions in operation compared to an existing building. However, savings are only achieved over time, and constructing from scratch means paying a heavy upfront toll in terms of carbon emissions from raw materials, transport, and construction.
By contrast, refurbishing an existing building can also cut operational carbon emissions, but without the emissions associated with building new. An interesting example of carbon sensitive refurbishment is Castle Court, the 19-storey Hyde Park Flats in Sheffield, refurbished in 1991. Many of the surrounding buildings were demolished and replaced, however Castle Court was upgraded and converted into high-quality accommodation.
Part of this refurbishment included the installation of NorDan products, predominantly Norwegian StormGuard windows, which, with aluminium cladding on the exterior, have required zero maintenance, and won’t need replacing for at least another 30 years.
Today, Castle Court is the exemplar of sustainable refurbishment. Never needing to be cleaned or externally maintained. All window products still operate as new. The success of the project is founded on good design that surpassed all certification and regulations. By refurbishing this building with low embodied carbon, high-performance, and long-life expectancy products, we can expect the project to provide desirable accommodation for generations to come.
Choose timber for low carbon
An ordinary NorDan window frame is made with more than 90 per cent timber, with an optional aluminium cladding which provides ultra-low maintenance to the product. The result is a unit with the sustainability credentials of a timber window, but with reduced maintenance requirements and extended lifecycle of 60 (plus) years.
This is why NorDan windows are so robust, and also why our embodied carbon performance is so impressive. In fact, NorDan’s windows have the lowest embodied carbon of this product type; they are around twice as sustainable as standard composite windows and are five times more sustainable than aluminium windows.
It’s also important to take into consideration the sustainability credentials of suppliers, as this is reflected in the embodied carbon content of their products. At NorDan we have placed sustainability at the very heart of what we do. For example, our aluminium is sourced from a carbon-neutral supplier and some of our factories are powered by hydroelectricity. We are constantly looking at ways to stay at the forefront of sustainability.
Zero carbon new builds
Beyond Zero Homes, a group of organisations operating across the home building industry, is proving that it is possible for new builds to be zero carbon, through the construction of an entirely timber house at the United Nations Climate Change Conference COP26 in Glasgow.
The amount of carbon stored in the house could end up exceeding the carbon emissions associated with its construction, resulting in the structure being carbon neutral or even carbon negative, which would remove the need to offset residual emissions to reach net-zero carbon for the project. This carbon neutrality would last for several decades, or until the house is eventually demolished at the end of its life expectancy of well over 60 years.
Because of NorDan’s unrivalled embodied carbon credentials, it is one of more than 20 companies who worked with Beyond Zero Homes to deliver the structure, providing a range of its windows and doors, including HomeGuard entrance doors.
The industry is starting to wake up to the fact that to reach carbon reduction targets it is crucial to choose low embodied carbon building products at the point of specification.
For more information on NorDan’s high-performance timber windows please visit the website.